by Sehraa Blades

Recently, the United States military announced that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, following a unanimous Pentagon vote, lifted the ban on women fighting in combat. This ban has been in place since 1994, and stipulates that women cannot fight in ground combat in particular. This news is a victory for women in the military, many of whom have been surrounded by combat while blocked from serving as soldiers on the front line.

For as long as we can remember, women have been fighting for their rights, and — perhaps even more importantly — for equality with men. In an online article in The Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift discussed how women serving in combat roles is not a new occurrence, saying, “the reality is that anyone in a uniform in a war zone is in combat. This is recognizing the reality of warfare today and the tremendous contribution women make.”

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In reality, women have been given more than mere supporting roles throughout the years, and particularly in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether people agree with women fighting or not does not change the fact that it happens: there have been 121 female deaths in these most recent two wars, and 66 of those women were killed in combat.

Though the military is made up primarily of men — women fill only 6% of top ranks — that is about to change.  On January 1, 2016, women will be able to hold the top positions in combat; some branches of service and their top-ranking officers will change the rules even earlier, beginning as soon as May 2013.

Some fear that women in combat will hinder how the military operates, and that the way combat is executed will be changed.  But in an article in The Washington Times, the Joint Chiefs insisted that women in combat will not reduce or impair combat effectiveness.  They also stressed, “Women have proved themselves time and time again, and are finally able to get the recognition for it.”

Special Operations units — elite groups including the Delta Force and others — are highly competitive to begin with, and have strenuous physical requirements that must be met.  Women are not exempt from these requirements.  When the ban on women in combat is lifted, it will not be negative and it will not be a risk; women will still have to meet the qualifications of the job they are given.  In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Tammy Duckworth may have said it best: “America’s daughters are just as capable of protecting our liberty and freedoms as America’s sons are.”

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